When he was 23 years old, Dallas-area resident Adam Lieber made a stupid mistake that too many young people make: he drove under the influence and was arrested. However, this mistake changed his life in ways he never imagined.
After he was arrested, Lieber was shocked to learn that the United States did not recognize him as a U.S. citizen, and he was considered an undocumented immigrant. Lieber was adopted from the Philippines when he was 11 months old, and America is the only home he has known. Regardless, the United States government is determined to deport him.
After his arrest, he learned that his adoption was likely a sham. His social security number and birth certificate were both faked. Unfortunately, his adoptive mother has passed away, so he may never learn the full truth about how he came to America. Today, five years after his ordeal began, Lieber is still fighting to stay in America, even though he really shouldn’t have to.
Individuals like Lieber almost always qualify for relief from deportation, as they are victims of human smuggling. However, our government operates on a “deport first” mentality, and according to ICIE founder Ralph Isenberg, ICE offers immigrants no assistance. “ICE rarely recognizes victims of human trafficking,” he says, noting that Dallas ICE has a notorious reputation in their treatment of immigrants. “Dallas is ground zero in the immigration fight,” Isenberg said.
“Adam is absolutely a victim of human trafficking,” Isenberg said. “He qualifies for a T-Visa and a U-Visa (visas for immigrants who are human tracking victims) and he also deserves to have his case reviewed, because like many immigrants, he received ineffective legal assistance from his attorney.”
Complicating matters for Adam is the fact that he initially agreed to leave the country voluntarily upon the advice of an attorney, after government officials ordered him deported. Most immigrants in such situations do this, thinking they are being cooperative and can improve their chances of reentering legally. However, agreeing to voluntary deportation brings with it a ten year ban on applying to reenter the country, something most immigrants are not aware of, and a “catch” that ICE rarely mentions.
“Once you accept voluntary departure, you waive all your rights,” Isenberg said. “But if any government official delays your departure, which happened in Adam’s case, an immigration judge can reopen the case. That’s what we’re focusing on.”
Isenberg believes the fact that Lieber received ineffective assistance from his attorney and has had a change of circumstance since his initial deportation order (namely, he has proof his adoption was faked) makes him eligible for cancellation of his removal from the country or to have an immigration judge adjust his residency status to legal.
“General MacArthur wanted to return to the Philippines, but not Adam,” Isenberg said. “He knows no one there, and has nothing to return to. America is all he’s known. Unfortunately, our State Department has taken a hands-off approach and has done nothing, but the government of the Philippines is investigating his case and may be able to offer assistance.”
In July of last year, ICIE founder Ralph Isenberg appeared on ARISE TV News to discuss the surge of “border kids,” the young refugees coming to our Southern border. As you will see, Ralph absolutely demolishes an anti-immigrant activist who makes some callous statements and outrageous accusations:
ICIE Founder Ralph Isenberg provides this ICIE update.
Most everyone heard about the rains we had in Dallas, but few knew that my home flooded. Even fewer people knew that the matters we handle at ICIE also flooded to a “flood stage” level. Now there may have been enough water from rain for me to now believe in “global warming” and start building an “ark,” but I am at a loss to explain what was going on at the office. While an act of nature is very time consuming to clean up and repair from, such acts pale to the amount of work necessary to clean up a mankind disaster. In particular, those disasters that split families apart have the potential to cause more harm than any flood that might hit Dallas.
As an activist, the most important thing I do is clean up after others. I never permit my work to be consistent nor will I ever permit myself to join the system. I know we are doing a good job at ICIE when everyone in the system is complaining except those we help. To act any differently only wastes time and guarantees that ICIE will start to accept losing more matters on a regular basis. As Founder, I will not permit this to happen.
ICIE was founded by me because I needed a “resort of last hope” to help me with immigration problems I was having, and there were none to help. I ended up going it alone and learned some valuable lessons about how cruel the system can be. I swore that if I ever resolved my problems, I would try and help others. Thus, ICIE was born.
As an organization, I see us always operating on the “edge of the cliff.” I am certain that by taking risks, ICIE protects those we help. As a “resort of last hope,” ICIE also tries to spare those we help the pain that I felt. At ICIE, we will never wear any safety belts, for to become conservative in our ways will mark an end to what we do under United States immigration law (8 CFR 1292.1(a)(3)) as a “reputable individual,” whether the government accepts us not.
An organization like ICIE is under so much pressure, that we must be constantly changing our ways. Most of the changes are not planned and just happen “because.” If we were not open to constant change, ICIE would be ambushed by those that wish to do our organization harm: certain members of the United States Government. Like a laser beam pointed at an airplane, ICIE will only be blinded temporarily, and then we will return to our founding principles.
My concerns for the future of ICIE are not that we be in perfect accord, but rather we must never lose the ability to act without double-checking everything we do. Stated differently, I am afraid the organization has gained too much knowledge of what we are doing. I prefer ICIE lack certain knowledge so we seek our own solutions, and then act accordingly, rather than just implement decisions we know are 100% lawful. I submit this approach is true “advocacy” and we only take on “hopeless matters” because we do not have the knowledge to say no. ICIE merely figures that every circumstance has a solution, and we act accordingly.
Frankly, our success record speaks for itself. The matters that we are taking on are getting harder and harder. As ICIE continues to see the abuses of our immigration system hurt more and more people, ICIE realized that we are also fighting to protect the rights of all United States citizens, as our work now is confined to matters which involve “Constitutional Law” and “Extreme Family Separation.” As for those we cannot help, ICIE will never turn anyone away without pointing them in the right direction.
Matters like getting Mr. Diaz returned to the United States before he ends up dead in a ditch in the streets of El Salvador ends up pushing other important matters further back. ICIE must always take our most urgent matters first. For example, I have been ready to a file suit, “prose” against the Dallas “Field Operations Director” (FOD), Simona Flores, for violating my First and Fifth Amendment Rights under the Bills of Rights. The suit will be filed in United States Federal District Court and will show that the Dallas FOD ordered the “retaliatory deportation” of a foreign national named Salomon to Mexico to strike back at me and ICIE. In doing this, I pray the Court appoint a special prosecutor to oversee ICE in Dallas Texas until these charges can be verified, as FOD is not acting alone in her actions. ICIE needs to get Salomon returned to the United States from El Salvador, because the same Dallas FOD approved the deportation of a foreign national, even though ICIE informed ICE that they lacked the proper police and court papers to make a decision on the man’s case. Not only was ICIE correct, but ICIE was able to prove the man was 100% innocent of the charges.
ICIE has another foreign national man that was deported to Mexico after Dallas ICE failed to be “truthful” with ICIE in the handling of this matter. ICIE was not able to get a form filed in time to prevent the deportation, even though ICIE had a new material witness from over two decades ago that would have established the innocence of the foreign national.
ICIE is trying to work with a woman from Palmer, TX to keep her from being deported, because of an ICE program called the “Streamline Initiative” that ICIE considers more like “Alice in Wonderland,” because the initiative violates the Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments of the Bill of Rights. ICIE also has numerous matters which involve post-conviction relief. These are very hard matters to handle. Then there are matters like Santos, a woman who made a simple error by not having her paperwork in order when visiting her mother in El Salvador after she had a heart attack. Now, she finds herself separated from her four United States citizen children.
Let us not forget the case of Saad Nabel, and his ongoing need to return to the United States with full status. His matter was the first case ICIE took on, and I would usually say that this is the perfect type of case we take on. For reasons I cannot explain, ICIE has not gotten to work on this matter in earnest.
The matter of Betty Lopez is another matter that has taken far too long. The husband of Betty, Jose Lopez, has understandably pulled the case from ICIE. I want the entire family to know that I personally want to apologize to the entire family for failing to get done what I said I would. I am not one to give my word and then come up empty handed. The responsibility of this failure is 100% mine and I especially hope the children of Betty and Jose Lopez will forgive me.
ICIE does a great job of “saving one starfish at a time” and it is time ICIE finds a way, once and for all, to expand the public awareness of the hidden side of immigration. ICIE needs to produce more documentaries like “El Gringo Schindler” and get them released with greater speed. ICIE must also work on fast-paced mini-documentaries that can get released with little or no effort to tell an immigration nightmare. The future use of the Spanish-speaking media is a very exciting next step to see evolve at ICIE.
In order to see this and other changes evolve, the organization is going to require new leadership in the ranks. It will perhaps be hardest for me to accept the changes I know must happen, but they are necessary if we are to be a meaningful organization now and into the future. ICIE must become a non-profit or establish foundation status sooner rather than later. Unless ICIE makes these changes, we will become nothing more than a footnote in the history of the “immigration movement.” We have the opportunity to make a real difference and be able to save more than just “one starfish at a time” but instead “thousands of starfish at a time.”
I mentioned my house getting flooded when I opened this update on our state of affairs. Did I mention that I still have a job with partners that depend on me to conduct business? Did I mention that I still have a family that want to see more of Dad? Did I mention my daughter is getting married in China next month, and the entire family is returning to China to be at the wedding? Not sure any flood water is going to wash me away, for I appear to be weighed down with enough that no amount of water is going to wash me down river.
UPDATE 5/29: Isenberg has learned that since his return to El Salvador, Mr. Diaz has been confronted twice by armed, hooded men, who threatened his life if he does not leave the country. After these threats, and after someone was murdered in front of his house, Mr. Diaz went into hiding, afraid to stay with friends or family members out of fear for their safety. He is reportedly low on money and desperate.
Isenberg has been in touch with the American Embassy in San Salvador, as well as several federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Some officials indicated a willingness to investigate the matter and possibly meet with Mr. Diaz. Still others dismissed the situation, with one telling Isenberg “Diaz’s story is no different than the other 6 million people in El Salvador. We can’t help them all.”
Isenberg said he was reminded of the story of the boy on a beach who came across hundreds of starfish that had washed up on shore. He began throwing them back into the sea one at a time. The boy’s father said his efforts were futile, as he couldn’t save them all. The boy held up one starfish and said “But I can save this one.” “I see ICIE as a starfish organization,” Isenberg said. “We can’t save everyone, but to the ones we can save, it means the world. Right now, Mr. Diaz is our starfish.”
ORIGINAL POST 5/28: The case of Elvin Marroquin Diaz, a political refugee who was recently deported from the United States to El Salvador, has taken a troubling turn. Mr. Diaz made an emergency call to ICIE offices Wednesday, saying he has gone into hiding in El Salvador because new threats have put him in immediate fear of his life. Mr. Diaz, a political activist while in El Salvador, fled the country after MS-13 gang members and individuals in the country’s ruling party threatened his life. Even though government officials found validity in his claim that he would face violence should he return to his country, a U.S. immigration judge deported him in April.
According to Ralph Isenberg, Mr. Diaz called their offices in a panic over the new threats. “He was so afraid, he was not even willing to talk on the phone or provide too many details,” he said. “We were able to ascertain that these threats were current, and directly related to the testimony he provided about individuals in El Salvador during his immigration hearing. His testimony and assistance helped his other family members stay in the United States under a refugee claim.”
Isenberg said Mr. Diaz was too afraid to even identify over the phone who was making the threats, so ICIE staff could not determine if MS-13 or government officials were behind the threats. Most disturbing of all, when asked to rate his chances of being killed within the next 72 hours, Diaz responded with an “8.”
Isenberg said he told U.S. authorities that he was afraid Diaz would be killed within 6 months if he returned to El Salvador, a country with the highest non-war-zone murder rate in the world. Isenberg has contacted the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador and the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to help Diaz. He even made a controversial move by reaching out to Judge Thomas Fong, who had earlier dismissed Isenberg’s complaints over the handling of Diaz’s case. Isenberg has even been in contact with The Washington Times, who had just profiled Diaz’s case in an extended article. They indicated that they are monitoring the situation as well.
We will update Mr. Diaz’s situation as more information becomes available.
An appearance by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldana at a Dallas community meeting descended into chaos Wednesday after immigration activists angrily confronted her over her agency’s treatment of undocumented immigrants.
According to a report in The Dallas Morning News, Saldana, a former United States Attorney for North Texas, appeared with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez at a community forum at El Centro College in downtown Dallas Wednesday night (May 20). After a few prepared remarks, Saldana opened the floor to questions, and she was immediately besieged by local activists upset over ICE policies toward undocumented immigrants.
During her prepared remarks, Saldana insisted ICE was only actively working to deport the “worst of the worst” undocumented or illegal immigrants, setting their priority on those who commit criminal offenses. The facts, however, tell a different story: most immigrants detained and deported are members of families (often of U.S. citizens) with no serious crimes. Parents are routinely deported, leaving children behind. It is this reality that immigration activists pointed out to Saldana, and demanded answers.
Activist Carlos Quintanilla demanded ICE stop deportations of immigrants with no criminal record. Danny Cendejas of the Texas Organizing Project said he has repeatedly asked Sheriff Valdez for a meeting to discuss her policy on immigration “holds” for ICE. When members of the audience did not get satisfying answers, they became agitated, and tempers flared. Some physically turned their backs on Saldana and Valdez, saying ICE and Dallas County Sheriffs had turned their backs on them. After chants of “ICE out of Dallas” filled the room, both Sheriff Valdez and Director Saldana left the room abruptly, ending the meeting.
Ralph Isenberg of the Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment may not agree with ICE’s tactics, but he found the response by the crowd at the meeting out-of-line. “I and my organization would never show that kind of disrespect to an elected official (Valdez). It is rude to turn your back like that. It is embarrassing to the sheriff. Regardless of what you think of Saldana, she did a good job as assistant U.S. Attorney,” he said. “The real question has to be why did Sheriff Valdez arrange this meeting with the ICE director in the first place. In the past, Sheriff Valdez has distanced herself from ICE. Why the change now? Was this about a possible future appointment to DHS?”
Isenberg thinks the protests were more about grandstanding than facilitating change. “The protesters should have known what the ICE director was going to say. We know policies aren’t being followed. It starts in DC and filters down to field offices. The Dallas field office is most dangerous office for foreign nationals in the United States. There is no respect by agents for directives that come from the ICE director or DHS. Washington believes they have these policies in effect, but they lack the proper oversight to ensure they are followed. We have to fight Dallas ICE to keep families together every day, even when the foreign national has committed no serious crime. What have they (the protesters) done to keep families together? What have they accomplished?
“If Director Saldana really wanted to help, instead of a community meeting, she should have agreed to sit down with me and other local immigration advocates to discuss our concerns. If Director Saldana had met with me for just 30 minutes, I would have shown her countless cases in which Dallas ICE Director Simona Flores is not following policy. Ms. Flores has a standing order if I show up at Dallas ICE headquarters, that federal police are called and I am threatened with a charge of trespassing, even though I am on public property. I make it clear that I am not an attorney or accredited, but there is nothing in ICE policy that prevents me from talking with an individual, especially when the foreign national’s family requests it.
“Director Saldana should sit down with me and Ms. Flores and find a way that we can work together. We go to ICE when we find a problem with Constitutional law or extreme family separation with a foreign national’s case. They are cases where no lawyer or organization will help them, and we usually win. Our record speaks for itself.”
Dateline Dallas, TX: May 20, 2015 There is good news and bad news in the fight to keep Elmer Marroquin in this country and with his family (you can read our previous coverage of the family’s plight here). Last week, Elmer was scheduled to be deported, but a last-minute motion to reopen his case for review was filed by ICIE staff, and a stay of deportation was immediately given.
ICIE founder Ralph Isenberg received word from the San Antonio ICE office (who is handling the motion to reopen) that they would not contest the motion and allow an immigration judge to review Elmer’s case and consider new information, allowing Marroquin a new chance to make his case to stay in the United States.
However, ICE officials in Dallas continue to lead the charge to separate this family and deport Elmer. “Despite being in close contact with other ICE officials regarding Elmer’s case, Dallas ICE officials would not talk to me,” Isenberg said, continuing their long-standing practice of shutting out Isenberg whenever he stepped in to help Dallas-area immigrants they were trying to deport.
When Dallas ICE officials finally spoke with Isenberg, they made their vendetta against Elmer clear. “They said I was wasting their time with Elmer, and that he was on ‘high priority’ to be deported,” Isenberg said. This insistence that Marroquin be deported comes even though he has at least five relief factors that our government considers as reasons to allow an immigrant to stay in America. These relief factors include: a U.S. citizen relative (a sister in Houston) willing to sponsor him; extreme family separation (in which a deportation would separate immediate family members) of a father from his wife and children; children who qualify for refugee status in the United States; a credible fear of personal harm or death upon his return to his country, and a U.S. citizen child with special medical needs.
ICE is trying to justify Elmer’s deportation based on a DWI arrest years ago. Isenberg points out that ICIE has a policy of not helping foreign nationals who have committed crimes, but he notes that in this case, Elmer took responsibility for his mistake, turned his life around, and is committed to being a good example to his children. He pled guilty to the misdemeanor and received a sentence of 30 days in jail. He served 10 days total, with time off for good behavior.
Isenberg does not dispute the original charge, but wants to point out to the judge that Marroquin had several avenues of relief available to him in immigration court that were not considered, while the attempt to deport him is based on ICE policy without any relief consideration. “This is a good man who made a mistake and deserves a second chance,” he said.
Even though Dallas ICE officials oppose keeping the Marroquin family together, the motion to reopen provides hope that justice will prevail in this case.
Isenberg also reports that ICIE remains overwhelmed with cases. Thankfully, he points out, there are immigration attorneys who are willing to work with them on a pro-bono basis. These attorneys are attracted to Isenberg’s out-of-the-box thinking and unconventional tactics, and seek the experience of working with immigration cases that ICIE provides.
In other news, Isenberg wrote a blistering letter to Asst. Chief Immigration Judge Thomas Fong, informing him of his intent to file a complaint against him. Fong had written a condescending letter in response to Isenberg’s complaint alleging misconduct by Immigration Judge Traci Hong in the case of Elvin Diaz of El Salvador. Fong dismissed Isenberg’s claims, saying he does not understand immigration court proceedings because he is not a lawyer. He also criticized Isenberg’s actions in court that assist immigrants, because he is not recognized by the government as an approved advocate.
“How dare he dress down a citizen of the United States the way he addressed me,” Isenberg said, pointing out that he has volunteered hundreds of hours assisting foreign nationals with no legal counsel, usually with cases immigration attorneys refuse to deal with. “It’s sad that a judge would feel so threatened by a lay person,” he said.
Isenberg challenges Judge Fong to prove his assertion that he lacks knowledge of immigration courtroom procedures, and points out that those he assists know he has never claimed to be an attorney or a recognized expert on immigration. “I am performing a labor of love,” he says, insisting that he wants a public apology from both judges, or he will petition the government for their removal, for restricting his right to free speech under the Bill of Rights.
Not only did Judge Hong berate Isenberg in court, she attacked pro-bono attorney Jason Franklin, a well-respected Dallas attorney who has been named a Texas “Super Lawyer” several times. Isenberg was assisting Franklin in court, much to the chagrin of Hong, who refused to accept his affidavits from witnesses and ran her court like a “three ring circus,” according to Isenberg. He hopes Franklin gets the chance, at some point, to testify to Hong’s behavior in court. “She picked on the wrong attorney,” Isenberg said. “If blood is spilled in El Salvador because they allowed a good man (Diaz) to be deported into a dangerous situation, it will be on their heads.”
Isenberg is preparing to submit a formal complaint to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Chief Immigration Judge regarding the misconduct and behavior of Judges Hong and Fong.
UPDATE (5/15/2015): Thanks to the fantastic efforts of the ICIE staff, a “Motion to Reopen” was filed with ICE in time to stop the deportation of Elmer Marroquin. Once ICE officials accepted the paperwork on Wednesday evening, a stay of deportation was automatically issued. We will continue to keep you informed of developments as ICIE staff work to keep the Marroquin family together.
ORIGINAL POST (5/13/2015): As we post this update, Elmer Marroquin could be spending his last night in America. Tomorrow, the father to two U.S. citizen children will be deported and separated from his family, and our government hasn’t even provided a reason why.
We’ve profiled the plight of the Marroquin family before (you can click here to read our stories about them), and, in recent days, it looked as if life for the family was finally looking up. Elmer and his wife had been separated from their children in El Salvador for years, until their daughter was allowed into the country on humanitarian grounds last year. In recent weeks, the Marroquins’ son was allowed to come to America, finally escaping the drug cartels and gangs that had threatened his life and brought violence to his neighborhood. The family was finally united, until Dallas ICE chief Simona Flores decided it was time for Elmer to leave the country, and ordered him on a plane flight back to El Salvador tomorrow (May 14).
Flores has been highly criticized for leading a ICE branch that rejects I-246 requests at a high rate, with no explanation. An I-246 is a government form requesting a stay of deportation, which is often granted to undocumented immigrants with extenuating circumstances, including facing separation from U.S. citizen family members or situations in which an immigrant has committed a minor offense. ICE officials are supposed to consider each I-246 and respond accordingly, but Flores simply issues a form letter denying a stay of deportation, with no explanation of why.
Marroquin certainly qualifies as an immigrant with extenuating circumstances. He is the breadwinner of his newly-reunited family. Two of his children are U.S. citizens, and the other two (who traveled from El Salvador) qualify for political asylum under refugee provisions for immigrants. The family’s political activism against corrupt government officials in El Salvador put Elmer at risk of danger, including torture, should he return. He also qualifies for relief from deportation because he has U.S. citizen family members in the country, and his child has a potentially life-threatening disease. Rather than address these factors, ICE director Flores rejected his I-246 request on May 7 with no explanation, and informed him the government had bought him a plane ticket to leave the country on May 14. That leaves little time to file an appeal, much less prepare to leave his family.
ICE officials contend that Elmer ignored a previous order to leave the country, but the government never bothered to send him the paperwork notifying him of an immigration hearing, in which he could have requested Temporary Protected Status to stay in the U.S. legally. Instead, ICE officials claim they tried to contact him by phone, and when Elmer did not attend the hearing, he was ordered deported in absentia.
His inability to gain legal residency for himself made it nearly impossible to bring his two children in El Salvador to the country legally. They were under the care of a grandmother there until threats of violence against the children forced the family’s hand, and the children were finally reunited with their parents recently, thanks to efforts by ICIE staff.
Ralph Isenberg and the Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment have filed an emergency request with Flores to stay his deportation while an appeal is mounted, and Isenberg has also filed a motion to reopen Elmer’s case with the government’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, perhaps Elmer’s last shot at staying in the country.
We will keep you up to date with developments in Elmer’s case.